You are a busy mom with so many things to do. The laundry, the vacuuming, the cleaning, the cooking, the washing and maybe a part-time job. On top of everything else you have to supervise and entertain your children. If only you had a few hours where your children are busy doing something that requires low supervision so you can get on with your work. Or maybe you need a break. With so much to do, you want your children to be busy having fun while you put your feet up, catch-up on some reading and enjoy your favorite beverage.
You’re thinking that you don’t want anything too messy, just something easy and quick to set up. Once it’s set up, you can get on with your own thing while the children play for a decent amount of time. You don’t want something mind-numbing either, like TV or video games, just something fun that they can use their imagination and experiment.
The following 8 play activities include all of these requirements. It is easy to set up, not too messy, requires high levels of imagination but a low level of supervision, and they are tremendously fun for young children. These activities will last at least half an hour to an hour (and sometimes longer depending on the child). This will be enough time for you to do what you need to do InshAllah.
1. Play Dough
This is an obvious one as all children, young and old, love to squish, roll and make things out of play dough. There are so many ways children can play with play dough. You can provide different types of utensils on different days to extend and prolong the play. How children play with playdough is only limited by the things you provide them with. Here is a 5-day suggestion:
- On day one: You can give them different types of cookie cutters then add plastic play knives and scissors for children to cut with.
- On day two: You can give them alphabet or number cutters
- On day three: You can give them rolling pins and chocolate moulds
- On day four: You can try setting up the play dough with a few toy plates, cups, pans, knives and spoons, and let your children play pretend ‘cooking’
- One day five: You can encourage ‘zoo’ play by providing plastic animals and popsicle sticks for children to build fences with the play dough
When children play with play dough they are working their fine motor skills as they knead, roll, cut, pinch, break and so on. Not only that, it is also great for a child’s imagination if you provide tools that encourage pretend play. If you make your own play dough, it will be much cheaper, safer and will yield more dough. There are many recipes for play dough online and it only requires a few basic kitchen ingredients such as flour, salt, oil and food colouring.
There’s something about water that draws children to it. Whether at the beach, pool, bathtub, using a garden hose, a water table or the kitchen sink, children will find endless fun playing with water. Unfortunately anything with water usually requires a high level of supervision as you don’t want accidents to happen.
One way to overcome this is to plug your kitchen sink, fill it halfway with water and add some dish detergent. Your children can stand on a stable step stool and play at the kitchen sink while you can keep an eye on them from the kitchen table. This is great for when you want to prepare food, read or do some paperwork.
Provide a few utensils such as spoons, forks, an egg beater, plastic cups and bowls, strainers, a small pot and pan. Basically, you want to provide them with a mixture of things that they can scoop with, and things that they can’t scoop with, in different shapes and sizes on different days. In this way, your children will be learning over a period of time about the properties of water and the idea of conservation when they pour the same amount of water into different containers and the amount of water remains the same no matter what the containers look like. Children won’t know they’re learning, as they will be having too much fun, but the idea will be planted in their head (much of children’s play is like this).
Two cautions here: If you don’t want everything to go into the kitchen sink then remember to put away what you don’t want your children to play with. Once they start having so much fun they will get carried away and take whatever they can and put it into the sink to play with the water. Also, children will get very wet so either put on a long sleeve plastic painting apron or shorts and a tee shirt and play on hot days. Cleaning up is easy, just get the children to rinse and drain everything then wipe the bench and floor dry with a towel.
Children are fascinated with bubbles. You can give them a small bottle of bubble solution with a bubble wand and let them blow bubbles in the backyard. To extend their play, provide a shallow tray with bubble solution (you can make your own with dishwashing detergent, water and glycerin or corn syrup) and various items that have holes. Items like strainers, plastic fly squatters (the ones with holes in them), cookie cutters, cylinders with openings at both ends (paper rolls, tubes and piping) and sieves. Let your children experiment with what works, what doesn’t, what makes the best or biggest bubbles and find out if the size of the holes really matter. That’s right, they’re learning while having fun!
4. Pots, Pans and Kitchen Utensils
There are two ways that children can play with pots, pans and kitchen utensils. One is to make a lot of noise banging and clanging away as children like to listen to the various sounds that can be made with different implements. The second way is to play pretend cooking just like the way mummy does her cooking. Providing children with plastic, wooden and metal utensils will allow them to experiment with the different sounds produced. Don’t forget to include lids as well. For this type of activity you will have to not mind the sounds that are made as children happily beat away, since it can get pretty noisy.
Giving children a large stirring spoon and some things to go inside the pot or pan (for example, tennis balls and foam blocks) will change the direction of their play by encouraging them to pretend to cook. This will be less noisy as they begin to stir instead of beat. One thing to keep in mind is to let children play with your old pots and pans and not the newer or more treasured ones. Also avoid lids made of glass. Obviously they would have to withstand the thumping and stirring.
5. Blocks and Bricks
Blocks and bricks come in all shapes and sizes. The bigger the blocks, the better for younger children to play with. The reverse is also true, the smaller the block pieces, the more suitable it is for older children. With blocks and bricks children can build anything they like. Vary the pieces that go with them. Mix and match wheels, animals, play people and licensed toys. The play is usually extended after children have finished building and start to include the cars, animals and people into their play. The benefit of this is twofold. Firstly children learn to think creatively and spatially as they build up, around, along and build 3-dimensional objects. Secondly children use their imagination as they take their created objects to play with.
6. Miniature Dolls and Pet Animals
Pretend play allows children to act out and make sense of things and situations that go on in their lives. When chchildren play with miniature dolls, pet animals and dollhouses, they reenact the things that they have seen or been through. This lets them play out their emotions. If you don’t have a dollhouse, then get a cardboard box and cut out flaps for the windows and doors. Let your children decorate it. Also, if you don’t have dolls or animals then let children make puppets or paper dolls.
There are many ways to make puppets. You can find ideas online and print it out, colour and cut. For others you can use popsicle sticks, a straw and a picture, old socks or felt. There are endless possibilities. Children will have great fun making it and then playing with it.
7. Cars, Planes and Trains
Transportation toys are always popular with boys especially but girls will also engage in it as well. You can vary it by providing only cars or only trains or only planes and then a combination of each on different days. Varying it also be by providing different surfaces to play on. Sometimes your children can play on proper car or train tracks built-in different formations, and at other times they can play on a printed road rug.
Making their own tracks are fun as well. Help them by providing a large paper or cardboard and depending on the ages of your children, draw it for them or let them draw roads, tracks, buildings, parking space and so on. Other ways to make tracks are with blocks and bricks. The children can run their cars or trains along connected blocks or the blocks could be the buildings and they can drive their vehicle between the blocks. To add even more variety, you can include on different days, a car park, some shops, a dollhouse and toy animals. Look around for things you can add. It needn’t be bought items. They can be items that you or your children have made.
8. Toy Kitchen
Children don’t need to have a large play kitchen as pictured here. All they need are some toy plates, bowls, spoons and pretend food. As with the other activities, vary the items that you provide for playing kitchen. One day you could provide a tea set with pretend cakes so they can have a tea party. On another day you can provide play fruit and vegetables with chopping boards and knives for them to prepare a healthy meal. Include a baby doll and the play will then revolve around nursing and feeding babies. Replace these with a menu and tablecloth and the play turns into restaurant play.
As with anything, children will become bored if given the same play things over and over again. The excitement happens when you vary the activities and extend each of them by changing the items that go into each activity. This in turn will increase engagement and prolong the play. How you choose to provide each activity depends on your children’s interests and engagement.
As a suggestion, since there are eight activities, you have over 8 weeks worth of activities. Each day you could change the items that go into one activity. Once the week has passed, you put that activity away completely and not let your children see it (or they will want to play with it). After seven weeks when you bring the first week’s activity out again, and start the cycle again, your children will be excited to play with it all over again.